Shankaracharya of Sringeri peeth Jagadguru Bharathi Teertha tells Ketan N Tanna
about his Ayodhya plan
A pontiff with a difference
The Sringeri Shankaracharya is obviously a very unusual pontiff. He asks questions, which would put media planners and publicity-conscious politicians to shame. I meet him under full public glare of his devotees and there seems to be no chance of getting an exclusive audience with him. As I am preparing to shoot questions, he takes the reins of the interview in his hands, and for the next several minutes, it is he who is doing the questioning.
“Which paper are you from?” the reversed seer asks me with a smile on his face. I mumble with difference, “The Pioneer”. “Achchha! Is it published from Lucknow and Kanpur too, besides Delhi? What is its total circulation like?” he shoots like a machine-gun in a rapid-fire position. I try to give him a figure, but he stops me in the middle of a sentence. “No, no. Not the combined circulation. Give me the break up.” It’s then that I give up, saying I can’t rattle off such detailed figures offhand.
The Jagadguru Bharati Teertha, Shankaracharya of the Sringeri peeth, is sitting on a silver throne and this somewhat intrigues me. Isn’t he supposed to be a sanyasi who was renounced the world and its charms? However, surrounded by his devotees, I feel a bit uncomfortable and try to concentrate on getting an opening with him. The seer’s cherubic face beams at me, and I attempt to hide my discomfiture, not so much due to his questions but because the awkward position that, I find myself in. Kneeling down besides his silver throne with a pen and diary in my hand, I can see a large number of devotees curiously watching me and the Shankaracharya having a tÃªte-Ã -tÃªte.
We are in the prayer hall of Shankaracharya Vidya Kendra at Vasant Vihar, one of the posh colonies in the Capital. It is late in the afternoon when the Shankaracharya finally designs to meet me after three days of continuous efforts. His Holiness has been very busy throughout the morning meeting one or the other VIP. Before coming to the prayer hall, the Shankaracharya had been closeted with Govindnarayan, former governor of Karnataka, for close to an hour. Lesser mortals like chairpersons and managing directors of big companies with baskets of fruits and sweets cool their heels in the meantime.
With more than 168 branches of his math, the Sringeri seer occupies a unique position and is considered the highest among all the four Shankaracharyas. Apparently, he ensured that a mandatory successor was appointed to the pro-VHP Puri Shankaracharya, Swami Nishchalananda. Now with Assembly elections drawing closer, the Sringeri Shankaracharya looks all set to play an important role.
In all likelihood, Ayodhya is going to be an important issue in the forth-coming elections. The Sringeri Shankaracharya’s arruval in Delhi, ostensibly for his Chaturmasa (a four-month stay, away from his ashram), has fuelled all kinds of speculation. With both the Congress and the BJP trying to recruit any and every god man and religious leader, the stock of holy men has obviously gone up. No wonder, the Sringeri Shankaracharya is being blatantly wooed by all hues of politicians. Leaders ranging from Madanlal Khurana and Atal Behari Vajpayee to VC Shukla haad paid their obeisance to the Acharya on his arrival in Delhi.
Nobody is more aware of this than the Shankaracharya himself. “See all sorts of politicians come and meet me. Day before yesterday, Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao’s son along with his information adviser, PVRK Prasad, came to meet me. Yesterday, Arjun Singh also met me,” informs His Holiness casually when I ask him about his alleged pro-Congress leanings. “But I am not with any particular party,” he clarifies with a smile.
Yes, but what about his statement in Mathura that all political parties should wait for the Supreme Court judgment, which will determine the status of the disputed land in Ayodhya? Doesn’t the statement in effect mean that the VHP should keep itself out of the temple trust? “Look any Indian, however holy he is, will have to abide by the Supreme Court verdict. Let the VHP threaten that it will occupy the Ayodhya land forcibly. Finally, only an apolitical body consisting of leaders from different Hindu sects, gurus of Madhava and Ramanandiya sects, sants of high reputation, religious and Vedic scholars will build the temple,” grins His Holiness again.
The pontiff’s sudden interest in the temple issue is curious to say the least. So far, the Sringeri seer had kept himself out of the Ayodhya controversy. So, what was the need to issue a statement about temple and add fuel to the controversy? Pat comes the Acharya’s reply: “If I do not say anything, you reporters complain that the Acharya is keeping silent on such an important issue. On the other hand, now that I am expressing my view, you accuse me of fuelling the Ayodhya controversy.”
Clearly, His Holiness’s views suit the Congress just fine. With Shankaracharya of Dwarka, Swami Swaroopanand on its side, the Congress has won the first round on the formation of the trust that builds the Ayodhya temple. How does he feel when he is labeled a Congress stooge, a la Dwarka Shankaracharya? “Look, I am not going to defend the Dwarka Shankaracharya and his affinity with Congress,” he says. Suddenly pointing his finger towards his brain, the Shankarachrya declares: “I have got brains. I also can think. I know which party means what. I am not a Congress stooge.”
When does he think work on the Ayodhya temple will start? “In the next few months, at least by this year end,” he predicts. In addition, will the temple be on the disputed site of the sanctum sanctorum? “Yes, without doubt.” But what happens if somebody challenges it? His Holiness is confident that nobody will. “Any way, we will cross the bridge when we come to it.”
What if the Muslim community objects? And where should the Masjid come up? The seer hems and haws. “Wahan to nahin. Kahin our (Not there, somewhere else).
Within days of his arrival in Delhi, VHP leader Ashok Singhal presented Swami Haridhos Giri to the Delhi corps. The swami who came to the Capital all the way from Thennangur near Kancheepuram launched a virtual diatribe against the Sringeri Acharya.
What does he think of Swami Haridhos Giri who has questioned the very locus standi of Sringeri Shankaracharya on Ayodhya? “Has he crticised me? Let him do. It does not bother me,” he dismisses the whole thing very casually. Suddenly realizing that the crowd behind me is gaping at us, I thank him for talking to me. The acharya smiles, enquires about my family background, and gives me a large orange as prasadam. I think him once more. Just then, the Acharya’s adviser cum-confidant, VR Gauri Shankar, gives me a parting shot: “Gadbadi wala mat likhna (Don’t write anything controversial).” I smile and so does the Acharya.
By Ketan Tanna